Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Personal Maid's Secret (1935)

Actress Anita Louise was born 98 years ago today, and Turner Classic Movies celebrated by showing several films in which the actress appeared, including PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET.

The movie's real star is fourth-billed Ruth Donnelly, who plays the title role and appears in a majority of the scenes in this 58-minute Warner Bros. "B" movie. (It may be a programmer, but it's still got gowns by Orry-Kelly!) Donnelly plays Lizzie, who leaves her prestigious Park Avenue job as a maid when the family can't pay her salary.

Lizzie takes a job with a middle-class couple, the Smiths (Margaret Lindsay and Warren Hull), simply because she likes Mrs. Smith, and soon Lizzie's suggestions on entertaining and moving to an East Side address result in Mr. Smith enjoying a huge boost to his career.

As the Smiths move into higher social circles, Mrs. Smith's brother Kent (Frank Albertson) falls for lovely young Diana Abercrombie (Louise), just back from finishing school in Europe. But Lizzie has a secret: Diana is her daughter.

There's a lot of entertainment value packed into this little movie. It initially starts as an enjoyable peek at the social classes and life in the servant's quarters (or at least servant life as Warner Bros. imagined it to be!). However, the film ultimately proves to have quite a bit more going for it, including some terrific snarky humor from Arthur Treacher (playing, what else, a butler); a sensitive performance by Ruth Donnelly; and a thoughtful resolution which doesn't seek to make everything in Lizzie's life completely perfect.

Donnelly has always been one of my favorite '30s character actresses, along with Helen Broderick and Jean Dixon, and she's just right in this, balancing a certain snootiness, as she gently lets Mrs. Smith know what she feels is proper, with a warm heart, treating the Smiths' little boy (Ronnie Cosby) with affection. She has a fun relationship with her butler friend (Treacher), as they spar over the proper wine to serve and carefully explore whether there might be more to their future relationship.

The story of Diana's birth and place in a society family is plausible and helps the viewer "buy in," along with the solid acting. Lizzie is touching in her longing for her daughter, but never maudlin, and ultimately she's quite stern with Diana when called for. Diana doing the right things and taking her place in society is more important to Lizzie than her own needs, and it's been that way since Diana's birth.

Anita Louise does a nice job as the headstrong daughter at a moral crossroads, and the scenes where she learns her background are quite well done. I also felt that Margaret Lindsay really helps make the movie as the wife eager to move up financially and socially. I was half expecting that at some point the Smiths would overextend themselves and end up in trouble, so I was glad that cliche was avoided, as they happily glide up the social ladder.

The supporting cast includes Henry O'Neill and Gordon Elliott, who later became "B" Western star "Wild Bill" Elliott. IMDb says this was one of the many films in which Dennis O'Keefe had a bit role; I need to scan through again and look for him, his face didn't jump out at me.

PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET was one of a handful of films directed by Arthur Greville Collins, who also worked as dialogue director on a number of movies. The black and white photography was by Byron Haskin. The script by Lillie Hayward and F. Hugh Herbert was based on a story from the Saturday Evening Post.

The trailer for PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET is at the TCM website.

Hopefully this film will be available in the future from the Warner Archive.

2 Comments:

Blogger Vienna said...

This looks a fun movie,Laura, and nice to see Ruth Donnelly in a good part.
Hope I get to see it sometime.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you do get to see it, a fun movie for those who enjoy the '30s. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

10:02 AM  

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